I can’t count the number of times at a business seminar, marketing conference, fitness expo, gym, workspace, or restaurant… someone describes a skillset they achieved… and then a person in the crowd asks the magic question that guarantees failure.
They could be talking about building a business. Or losing 50 pounds. Or writing a book.
Inevitably someone will pipe up, “How much time do you spend per week, writing?” or “How much time do you spend per week, on your business?”
Which are both examples of the magic question that guarantees failure:
“How much time do you spend on [fill in the blank]?”
Wrong question. Wrong mindset. And I’m not sure if there’s a cure.
As soon as I hear that question, I know that person’s doomed to fail.
Yeah, I’m an asshole.
Yes, it’s sooo arrogant to write something like this.
I’m also right.
That question opens a doorway into the person’s thinking. It shows their brain is weighing the pros and cons of spending time writing a book. It wants to determine the bare minimum number of hours required to do something abhorrent – to barely scrape by with a positive result.
They might as well ask, “How long do I have to hold my nose and do something I hate, just to bask in the results? To hell with feeling fulfillment and enjoying the growth along the way, or aligning myself with the flow of life. Just give me the guaranteed minimum I must do. The cut-and-dried answer. I want my life’s canvas to be paint-by-numbers.”
You haven’t even started, and you’ve already projected a path of deeper and deeper suffering as you slog through hours of forcing yourself, until you finally throw your hands up in the air and quit.
If you’re asking how many hours of writing you need to put in, to write a book… then follow Nike’s advice in reverse:
Just don’t do it.
If you ask how many hours per week are required for a project to increase your income, just don’t do it.
If you ask how many hours of exercise you need to spend in the gym, to finally get in shape… just don’t do it.
Instead, take a step back. Figure out what you can do, where time commitment is a non-issue. Because you actually want to dive in and relish every moment. Or, even better, time is a non-issue because you’re obsessed with what you’re doing.
The best definition I ever heard of a writer, was from Sol Stein: “Writer’s cannot not write.”
Writers don’t ask how many hours they need to put in. They’re too busy doing it. Day after day. Because they can’t stop.
When I first began an unusual kind of standing meditation, I asked my teacher, “What’s the maximum amount of time I can do this every day, without diminishing returns?”
“There’s a guy in India who does six hours,” he said.
Think of a champion athlete. They don’t ask how many hours they need to devote to training in the arena, or the gym, because those are the only places where they feel at home.
Good luck competing with them.
Instead, figure out where others have no hope of competing with you, because you’re too obsessed with practice. Or, if that paradigm doesn’t jive with you, figure out where hours become lost because you just don’t give a shit. You’re too busy practicing.
Here are two ways how:
- If something just isn’t you, don’t bother.
If I could snap my fingers and make it happen, I’d enjoy sampling the Rockstar lifestyle. I remember reading one of the Motley Crew guys saying sex with four women at once was too many, and two was too few, but three women simultaneously was just right. I wouldn’t mind verifying that. But trying to spend hours per day, and years of my life, practicing a musical instrument with that goal in mind, would be insane.
On the other hand, I cannot not write. It’s me. How many hours per week do I write? Per day? Who gives a shit? I can’t stop. It also happens to bless my life. Perfect combination. Find yours.
- If you know a practice that truly is you, but you’re still struggling with your commitment, then there’s an inner issue to work out.
Again, I want to emphasize, make sure it’s something that truly is you. Don’t beat your head against the wall just because you want the toys and trinkets on the other side. Find a wall you can enjoy knocking down.
Once you do, arrange your day as best you can, so you can practice when you have the most energy. An old friend of mine taught, “Do the thing you fear, first thing in the morning.”
Here’s another version: “Do the thing you obsess over, first thing in the morning.” Or before you go to bed at night. Or whenever you’re primed for peak performance.
And don’t ask how much time you have to put in, in the morning.
Now that you know the question that dooms you to failure, you can scout out similar questions. They all revolve around minimal effort, guaranteed results, and dumping the responsibility of deep thinking onto another person. Here are a few examples:
“If I only had to pick one…”
“What’s the best way to begin?”
“What’s [anything that can be answered with a single Google search]?”
“How hard is it to…”
“Yeah BUT how do I…”
Ouch. I’ve asked questions like this, many times. See if you’ve done the same. Then compare different parts of your life – where you’ve excelled and where you’ve stumbled. Where do you ask these questions more often? And is it correlation… or causation?